A Big Teaching Hospital Can Make All the Difference

Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Bob Tirk And His Wife

•    My local doctor recommends going to a teaching hospital
•    Chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor for surgery
•    Whipple surgery and a clean bill of health

I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2015.

For several months before that I had pain the local doctors couldn’t pinpoint. They did blood tests, a CT scan, an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), and a colonoscopy but were not able to find anything. After my last test, the doctor suggested that I go to a big teaching hospital.

A Teaching Hospital Makes the Diagnosis

We are lucky to live close to both Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin. My doctor gave us names and numbers of specialists in both places. Our first call was to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, for no other reason than it was on the top of the list. The scheduler said the doctor would not be able to see me for another month. But my wife said that I was in real pain and needed to be seen ASAP. The scheduler looked and asked if we could come in the next day, as they had a cancellation. We jumped at the chance and the rest is history.

At Rush I underwent another CT scan, where the doctor saw a spot to biopsy. Using a special ultrasound/biopsy test they confirmed my worst fear, that it was pancreatic cancer.

Treatment Begins

My treatment team consisted of oncologist Dr. Lauren Wiebe, surgeon Dr. Keith Millikan, and radiation oncologist Dr. Ross Abrams. When I met with the doctors to discuss treatment they said that the treatment would be different, in that I would have radiation and chemotherapy with Abraxane first and then surgery. I went into Chicago five days a week for radiation, and on one of those days I would have chemo. After five weeks of treatment they postponed surgery for another two-month round of chemo with Abraxane and gemcitabine (three weeks of chemo, with a one-week break, then repeat the cycle) as the tumor had not shrunk enough.

During my first round of treatment I did not have any side effects, but this time I lost my hair and had white blood count issues. I finished chemo on December 23, 2015 and had Whipple surgery on January 19, 2016. I was in the hospital for about 12 days. My pathology was very good after surgery, with no cancer in any lymph nodes.

As of today I’m feeling great other than some neuropathy in my feet. My CT scans have been clear and cancer-free. I can’t say enough good things about Rush Medical. For a huge hospital my care felt very personal.

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